Written by Gregg Brekke
Learning that Laura Madden's entry point into freelance writing for the UCC has come via India is an attention-grabber.
Then you find out her journey also has gone by way of Brazil.
And South Africa.
And that she is back in India.
For the third time.
A highly experienced photographer and television/film producer, Madden has worked on several "reality" shows. On her resume are editing projects for reality TV shows to include "Rescue Ink," "Border Wars," "Dog the Bounty Hunter," "Family Plots," "The First 48" and "DogTown."
The success was all well and good, but Madden found herself at a creative crossroads.
"I was having a tough time reconciling working on TV shows that I wouldn't watch in my spare time, so I decided to take a year off to work on my still photography portfolio," says Madden, whose credits also include work on an Emmy-winning PBS documentary about Benjamin Franklin. "So I packed my Canon 30D and my laptop and hit the road."
The journey began in November 2007 after a family friend in India had put her in touch with Dr. Anil Henry, who heads up Mungeli Christian Hospital in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh.
"Think 'Trauma: Life in the ER, India style,' " says Madden, who later in that leg of her travels met a group of UCC members from Atlanta.
Her first order of business, however, was fulfilling Henry's suggestion that she shoot photos of a woman's hysterectomy. "Over the course of five days, not only did I experience the shock of up-close-and-personal medical care, but I also learned a lot about the Indian medical system through what I wasn't seeing at MCH."
Madden says Henry questioned the practice of many doctors in rural areas such as Mungeli, where antibiotics were being prescribed with abandon. "Dr. Anil and his crew were going against the grain, in some cases whipping out medical texts if they got a patient they didn't know how to treat."
Most inspirational for Madden has been meeting "everyday people" who work so diligently for change.
"People who had finished the day at their full-time job headed over to the refugees' house to sort through the mail, or help draw up a household budget," says Madden. "Parents of kids negotiated with the refugees' kids' schools when they would otherwise have been at home preparing dinner for their own kids."
Fast-forward to early 2010 when the Rev. Gregg Brekke, United Church News editor, called to request photos of Henry for the debut issue of StillSpeaking Magazine. Madden came through, and later in the year introduced herself to the UCC – a k a "the Jesus crowd" to some of her friends and colleagues – by writing a freelance article for United Church News.
The subject of the piece was the work of resettlement committees that provide long- and short-term assistance in the United States for Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). Conducting interviews and composing the article led Madden to a new-found appreciation of the UCC.
"With years of Catholic school as my point of reference for the Christian community, I was thrilled to learn about the UCC's practical approach to modern life," says Madden, noting the open-and-affirming position of many UCC churches, as well its support of women's reproductive rights and staunch opposition to the Iraq war.
"I hope that sharing these kinds of stories inspires other people – Jesus lovers or not – to get out there and make change in whatever way they can," says Madden.